Qualitative research on migration studies requires specific ethical considerations beyond the standardized codes

Qualitative research on migration studies requires specific ethical considerations beyond the standardized codes

Ricard Zapata Barrero and Evren Yalaz, GRITIM-UPF researchers, are the authors of an academic paper which analyses the ethical challenges faced today by scholars of migration issues.


Imatge inicial

When qualitative research is conducted in the field of migration, researchers are often faced with special ethical issues, as they often work with vulnerable, sensitive populations to which access is difficult, and the protection of the individual participants and the management of information become a difficult task.

An academic paper by Ricard Zapata Barrero, full professor of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at UPF and director of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Immigration (GRITIM-UPF), together with Evren Yalaz, a group member and postdoctoral researcher at the University, pinpoints the current ethical challenges that are often faced by scholars of migration and recognizes the need for researchers to deal with ethical dilemmas case by case.

The article pinpoints the current ethical challenges that are often faced by scholars of migration.

The ethical debate linking qualitative research into migration is a recent area of thought, directly related to the development of migration studies on the vulnerable refugee population, and the emerging and often unpredictable legal and political framework, which even criminalizes researchers that deal with illegal immigrants.

“The exploratory and flexible nature of qualitative research in the field of migration studies shows that standardized codes of ethical conduct cannot adequately address the problems that emerge during the process of qualitative research”, the authors of the article assert.

In this context, qualitative research often implies being in contact with vulnerable people, who have experienced war, abuse, torture or other traumas. In most of these cases, according to the authors, it is essential that researchers should have ethical virtues, such as empathy to understand, for example, the psychological and cognitive reality of displacements, measuring their questions and demands for information that are often illegal in the eyes of the authorities. We must be aware that the individuals involved in research can have negative images, distrust in the environment, or a logic of survival in mobility.

Standardized ethical codes and guidelines are not enough to guarantee the quality of research

Currently, there are extensive ethical guidelines and codes provided by various professional organizations and associations in the social sciences, such as the Economic and Social Research Council, the Market Research Society and the British Psychological Association, among others.

These guidelines (each from its own perspective, depending on its area of expertise) identify important and difficult ethical principlesof questioning, that should steer research practices. Some of them are the respect for autonomy, volunteering, informed consent, confidentiality and anonymity, responsibility to do good and to avoid harm, and justice, among others.

However, according to the authors, this environment is not enough, and being guided exclusively by the prevalence of standardized regulations and ethical reviews may be detrimental to the quality of the research: “Standardized guidelines may be too broad to address the specific ethical challenges arising from this vulnerability; this may even lead researchers to make mistakes when they do not adapt to the specific contexts of migration research”, they assure.

Ricard Zapata-Barrero and Evren Yalaz call for the need to include these issues in higher education programmes and to teach ethical principles more suited to young researchers, in an academic environment. The aim is for “researchers who perform qualitative research on migration to be ready to actively participate in ethical considerations and be able to make their own decisions at all stages of their research”, the authors conclude.

An article in the framework of a line of research by GRITIM-UPF, which will give rise to further publications

This initial paper is a broader version of a more detailed article introducing a special issue that is expected to be published before the summer inQualitative Research Journal with multidisciplinary contributions and case studies.  

This contribution comes under a line of research on migration theory and qualitative methodology by GRITIM-UPF, which in 2018 published the manual Qualitative Research In European Migration Studies (Open Access, Springer), translated into Turkish, with more than 130,000 downloads. Also on this subject, R. Zapata-Barrero is preparing the publication of a book with the working title Concepts in Migration Studies: How Disputes on Concepts Shape Migration Studies Today.

Reference work: Zapata-Barrero, Ricard; Yalaz, Evren (2019). “Qualitative Migration Research Ethics: Mapping the Core Challenges”. GRITIM-UPF Working Paper Series, no. 42 (winter).






Per a més informació

Para más información

For more information

Notícia publicada per:

Noticia publicada por:

News published by:

Unitat de Comunicació i Projecció Institucionals

Unidad de Comunicación y Proyección Institucionales

Institutional Communication and Promotion Unit